Important Conservative thinkers

Summary: key themes and key thinkers

Thomas Hobbes

Edmund Burke

Michael Oakeshott

Robert Nozick

Ayn Rand

The state arises ‘contractually’ from individuals who seek order and security. To serve its purpose, the state must be autocratic and awesome. Any system of political rule, however tyrannical, is preferable to no rule at all.

The state arises organically and should be aristocratic, driven by a hereditary elite, reared to rule in the interests of all.

The state should be guided by tradition and practical concerns.

Pragmatism, not dogmatism, should be its watchword.

The minarchist or 'Night Watchman' state should merely outsource, renew and reallocate contracts to private companies providing public services. the growth of government was the gravest contemporary threat to individual freedom. More specifically, Nozick thought the growth of welfare states in western Europe fostered a dependency culture.

The state should confine itself to law, order and national security. Any attempt to promote ‘positive liberty’, via further state intervention, should be resisted. She wrote: ‘The small state is the strong state.

The state

There can be no

‘society’ until the creation of a

state brings order

and authority to human affairs. Life until then is ‘nasty, brutish and short’.

Society is organic and multi-faceted,

comprising a host of small communities and organisations

(‘little platoons’).


communities are essential to humanity’s survival, especially when guided by short-term requirements rather

than abstract ideas.

Society should be geared to individual self-fulfilment.

This may lead to a plethora of small, variable communities reflecting their members’ diverse tastes and philosophies. libertarianism is tolerant of a liberal, ‘permissive society’ and takes a relaxed view of issues like abortion, divorce and homosexuality.

society does not exist in any practical form, it was ideally just a loose collection of independent individuals.

society is atomistic: the mere sum total

of its individuals. Any attempt to restrict individuals in the name of society should be



Cynical: Humans are needy and vulnerable People will compete violently to get the basic necessities of life and other material gains, will challenge others and fight out of fear to ensure their personal safety, and will seek reputation, both for its own sake and so that others will be too afraid to challenge them.


Sceptical: the ‘crooked timber of humanity’ is marked by a gap between aspiration and achievement. We may conceive of perfection but we are unable to achieve it.

Burke stressed mankind’s fallibility and its tendency to fail more than succeed. He therefore denounced the idealistic society that the French Revolution represented, claiming it was based on a utopian — and thus unrealistic view of human nature.

Most men and women, are ‘fallible but not terrible’ and ‘imperfect but not immoral’. Though incapable of the ‘perfect’ societies linked to other ideologies, humanity was still able to secure ‘both pleasure and improvement through the humdrum business of everyday life’.

Conservatives, ‘prefer the familiar to the unknown, the actual to the possible, the convenient to the perfect…present laughter to utopian bliss’.

Egotistical: individuals are driven by a quest for ‘self-ownership’, allowing them to realise their full potential.

individuals have self-ownership — that they are the sole authors of their talents and abilities and should be left alone to realise

them, without the intervention of government.

Objectivist’: we are — and ought to be — guided by rational self-interest and the pursuit of self- fulfilment.

Human Nature

Constructive and enduring economic activity is impossible without a state guaranteeing order and security.

Trade should involve ‘organic’ free markets and laissez-faire capitalism.

Free markets are volatile and unpredictable, and may require pragmatic moderation by the state.

The minarchist state should detach itself from a privatised and deregulated economy, merely arbitrating disputes between private economic organisations.

‘tax, for the most part, is theft’


capitalism is an expression of ‘objectivist’ individualism and should not be hindered by the state.

The Economy